When people ask how I started narrating audiobooks, some are surprised when I mention podcast fiction. Mentioning a podcast sometimes brings to mind the twenty-first century version of AM talk radio, instead of short stories and audio drama. People familiar with programs like Welcome to Night Vale, Leviathan Chronicles, or the old-time radio plays of the 1940s have some idea, but those individuals who started narrating audiobooks the “traditional” way via an acting background (theatre or film) may not be as familiar with the niche of podcast fiction and short stories. And some of them handwave the experience, a “well, that doesn’t really count” to tack onto the story as they wait for me to relay how I landed my first title.
I used to apologize for my podcast background among the audiobook crowd. Note the past tense on that phrase. I -used- to. Now, after more than year narrating full time and lending my voice to multiple audio dramas and speculative fiction podcasts, I no longer cringe and whisper about my experience in the podosphere. Instead, I proudly mention the podcasts to which I’ve contributed, as well as the podcast novel series I’ve narrated for more than a decade, produced for more than eight years, and to which I’ve contributed as an author for four of five print books. I mention the three novels I’ve narrated and serialized, including the one I coauthored. And all FOUR of those projects have made the finals of the Parsec Awards, one of the highest forms of recognition of podcast fiction and its fans. In fact, I was part of a Parsec-finalist project as a narrator or narrator/producer for eight years, with some years having multiple finalist projects.
Never won, though. And yet, here I am, still podcasting and getting paid to narrate other authors’ work.
In hindsight, it seems ridiculous to apologize for that experience. As I typed that last paragraph, I had to laugh. Why would I ever apologize for all of that work? I didn’t treat it differently than any audiobook project. In fact, I’ve had short story authors come back to me with their novel length works, interested in forging a professional relationship to create an audiobook because of the way I treated their short story on a podcast. Not all of the work was paid in the beginning, but I grew alongside those podcasts and when they became paying markets, I started getting paid for those narrations. Listeners loyal to those podcasts enjoyed my treatment of stories, and they started finding my work on audiobooks in their favorite genres. And, I got to narrate short stories written by big authors who submitted to these podcasts.
One of the misconceptions about podcast fiction is that it’s not necessarily held to the same quality as audiobooks. It’s true that many fiction podcasts rely upon volunteers to narrate their stories, and not every podcast narrator has a studio or a shelf of high-tech equipment for recording and production. For my part, I treat every short story and audio drama part with the same professionalism and technical standards as my audiobooks. Those stories, often less than five thousand words, get the same preparation and respect as an eighty thousand word novel. They get performed with the same energy and attention to detail as my full-length projects.
Again, why would I ever apologize for that work? Does the novelist apologize for the short story? Of course not!
The early stories and podcasts may not best represent where I am now, as an audiobook professional. I didn’t seek out coaching until a year ago, and my audio production skills are still nowhere near the likes of the engineers and producers with whom I work on full-length books. At the same time, they provide excellent proof of two key concepts that any professional creative can recognize.
- Proof of persistence – while it took me ten years to reach a fifty audiobook benchmark, there are twice as many short stories and podcast episodes with my voice since 2006. That’s right, 2006. Tenacity with a microphone across genres, while working full time, going through another pregnancy, a master’s degree, an education specialist degree, and being the #momboss in my crazy family.
- Proof of growth – those 2006 and 2007 narrations are nowhere near the quality of the recordings of 2017 and 2018. The podcast stories I’ve recorded for EscapePod this year are so much better than the first ones I recorded in 2012. And if you ever want proof of growth, go listen to the first season of The Secret World Chronicle podcast, then listen to the ninth season of that same podcast. Ten years makes all the difference, and I can only get better.
So, if we meet, ask me about my podcast experience. Ask me about how I was able to learn more about my narration ability, trust my instincts to bring life to words on a page, and practice my audio editing and production skills. Ask me about how podcasting required me to learn about social media and cross-platform promotion. Ask me about how I used podcast fiction to become a better author and build stronger relationships with other authors. Ask me how the podcast community helped me build the strength and confidence to embark on my professional narrator career.
And I’m not about to apologize for any of it.